You think these poems were bad?
When it comes to bad verse on a large public tragedy, nothing can compare to William McGonagall’s famously atrocious poem “The Tay Bridge Disaster,” from 1880. The bridge had collapsed the year before, killing all 75 passengers on a train that was crossing over. Every line of the poem is awful but the final six are particularly ludicrous, including some subject-verb disagreement (“men confesses”) for which poetic license is no excuse:
That your central girders would not have given way
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.
Benjamin George Friedman, New York
The Onion got it right!
Regarding The Times’s puzzlement in 1912 at being deluged by hundreds of awful poems about the Titanic: The brilliant poets at The Onion offer an explanation. The satirical newspaper’s headline for April 16, 1912 — posted decades later — reads, “World’s Largest Metaphor Hits Ice-Berg,” followed by the heading: “Titanic, Representation of Man’s Hubris, Sinks in North Atlantic.” We lesser poets simply cannot resist metaphors that big.
Bill Tally, Maplewood, N.J.
‘It’s clear that you want everyone to submit Titanic poems, so here’s mine.’
The sound of the crash was satanic
But the passengers refused to panic
The boat tilted up high
People fell from the sky
And down to the bottom went the Titanic.
Scott Wilson, Long Beach, Calif.
There was a large boat called Titanic
Whose sinking caused quite the great panic.
Readers sent in their poems,
The Times released a great moan,
Making readers even more manic.
Caroline Winer, West Palm Beach, Fla.
All things converge
In the parallax of time
Titanic she sunk in 1912, and
Today she is rusting, and covered in slime.
She looked good up top
But then much less so below
Titanic she swims with the fishes, but
She made a film director’s dream, quite the show.
Time flattens all things
Much faster than e’er before
Titanic she’s home to trillions of life forms, but
She’s fallen and she can’t get up, off the seafloor.
She was such a sure thing
In the year Nineteen Eleven
Titanic we’ll raise her to the surface one day, and
Prove to ourselves she ne’er knew, folly under heav’n.
Jeff Verge, Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada